Part 2Watch out for that mountain!
I see it, Buffy, give me a second!
Were going to crash. Give me the stick.
Shut up and let me fly this thing. Have you even been in a plane?
No, but I guess Im going to find out what its like to crash one.
Whistler fought the stick, pulling up with all his strength, slamming the throttle forward. The F-15 shot forward, and the mountain, one of hundreds in the Rocky Mountain range, raced towards them at a terrifying speed.
Are you pulling up, Whistler? Cause I see a definite lack of altitude here.
Look, Slayer, I
The F-15 crashed into the side of the mountain.
Next time, I drive the plane.
You fly a plane, you dont drive it.
No, I fly a plane, you crash it.
They clambered out of the flight simulator, and two young boys jumped in right away, hooting and hollering. The female ticket-taker looked at Whistler and Buffy with some sympathy. Crashed, did you?
Typical man doesnt know up from down.
Whistler watched the two women share a smile and exhaled loudly, shrugging his shoulders. He walked stiffly out of the flight sim wing of the Museum of Science and Industry, and wasnt surprised when Buffy quickly caught up to him.
You know, began the demon, I figured that since we were going to hang out in tourist attractions all day, I might take an opportunity to have a little fun. Apparently I was mistaken.
Apparently, agreed Buffy. Why dont we go downstairs to the Omnimax theater and see that Everest movie?
Because so far, everything weve done has been on me, and has it ever occurred to you that demons may not have an unlimited supply of cash?
Buffy looked at him sideways. How do you fill your wallet up, anyway?
I have a day job, you know.
Hmm, youre a demon, so Let me guess: a lawyer?
A sports agent?
Close, but not quite.
All right, then what?
A Hollywood studio executive.
You think Jean-Claude Van Damme has a career because he has talent? Pauly Shore? Those Olsen twins?
So you want to hear how you can save Angel?
If itll put a stop to the Olsen twins career, Im your captive audience.
* * *
Giles stared at the dolphin, which seemed to be trying to communicate from the other side of the glass. The Watcher quickly glanced around him at the other tourists in the Shedd Aquarium, but, no, the dolphin was definitely giving him the eye. Back and forth the water-bound mammal swam, always coming back to the tweedy librarian with the slightly dazed look. He wondered what it was trying to say. Maybe something like, Feed me, or Do you know a way out of this tank to the ocean?. What an existence that must be, to be in one place your whole life, never allowed to do what you want, to go where you want, to be whoever you want. Fate locks you into a big glass tank and forces you to play a narrowly-defined role for the good of who, exactly? Perhaps this dolphin was a mother, wondering where her child was. Wondering if Giles knew. Demanding to know why he wasnt trying to find her child right this moment.
But she is my child, too.
He blinked, and the dolphin spun away, heading for another corner of the tank. Giles felt alone. For a moment, he wished he had gone with one of the couples, but he knew the chances of one of them finding Buffy were better if they were split up like this. As well, he felt like he was intruding a bit whenever he was with Willow and Oz, or Xander and Cordelia. It didnt help that memories of Jenny would hit him the hardest when he would see Willow and Oz hold hands, or when Xander and Cordelia indulged in their premarital spats.
Somewhere, somehow, this all made sense.
Giles turned away from the glass wall and began scanning the crowd again for a young blonde girl who felt more and more like his surrogate daughter.
* * *
The water jets and sprays performed a complicated series of patterns all over Buckingham Fountain, and the unlikely couple sat on a nearby bench, watching the peculiar beauty. Occasionally a sudden breeze would float some of the spray their way, which was a welcome relief from the hot sun. The couple, a Slayer and a demon, sat together but apart, each alone in their own fashion. The Slayer alone by choice, the demon alone by necessity.
Theres a nightclub in Las Vegas called the Hellmouth.
Really. Buffy said disbelievingly.
Not a coincidence. Anyway, in that nightclub, youll find all sorts of human and inhuman creatures, with one common trait.
Theyre all evil.
Except for the bartender; hes really evil.
Uh-huh. Go on.
In the basement of this nightclub is a pit, heavily guarded. Its what the place is named after. That pit is a direct portal to Hell. But its not open like a 7-Eleven or anything, otherwise the world would be overrun by lost souls and evil demons. Angel is on the other side of that portal, but to bring him through, you have to send someone from this world into the portal first. A soul for a soul, thats how it works.
So I would just throw a baddie into the pit, and Angel pops out?
Not quite that simple.
It never is.
The person you send into the pit has to go in of their own free will.
I have to find someone who wants to go to hell?
Whistler expected her to get angry, perhaps grab him and throw him across the park. But Buffys shoulders merely slumped, and she sighed.
Okay, she said finally.
The demon cocked an eyebrow at her. Okay? Thats it? No railing at God for making it so difficult? No blaming the universe for all the hardships you have to endure?
She shook her head. I can get Angel out. I can bring him back. Everything else will take care of itself.
Buffy, youre not thinking
She cut him short. Lets get gone, Whistler. We have to keep moving, or theyll find us. Cant have that.
Wholl find us, the FBI? Or your friends?
Dont bother with the guilt trip, Whistler. You did your duty, you told me how to save Angel. My friends are still in Sunnydale, and thats the best place for them. I dont need their help.
* * *
I dont need their help.
Buffys voice sounded weak from the surveillance speaker.
Wheres our frigging backup, Jameson?
The FBI agent was on his celphone, barking angrily at someone. Theyre still ten minutes away.
Christ, were going to lose our chance for containment. What have we got, three units?
Four. The local fuzz dropped a unit on us a half-hour ago.
Starkey grabbed his binoculars and peered through the lenses at his target, who was a good four hundred feet away. Whats our percentage, Jameson?
Jameson looked through his own binoculars and grunted. Less than 33 percent, man. We rush them now, two out of three times, we miss them. Three, maybe four hundred people around, too easy to lose them in the crowd.
Starkey sighed. This was what you got when you had a police force who didnt give a crap and an FBI office swamped with work. Insufficient resources. He pressed a button on his earpiece. All units, maintain surveillance distance. Do not, I repeat, do not advance on the target. Wait for my signal. All units, keep me informed.
Jameson lowered his glasses. Theyre on the move. Were going to lose them, Starkey.
The FBI agents hand flew to his earpiece. All units, target is on the move, heading north. Keep your distance and your gun holstered, people. He looked at his partner. This is almost more trouble than its worth.
Jameson smiled. Yeah, but the hunt, man. Gets the blood moving, doesnt it?
* * *
Well, began Oz, since were all here and Buffy isnt, I think its safe to say none of us found her.
Oh, no, actually, shes in the little girls room right now freshening up, deadpanned Xander.
Really? asked Giles.
No, sorry. Mr. Comic-Timing-Isnt-Everything has trouble with creating the funny. Cordelia smiled sweetly at her boyfriend, and for a wonder, Xander looked relieved.
Willow leaned against the side of the van. So what do we do now? Split up again and head for the malls? We so need a homing Buffy beacon right now.
Oz, could you get the city guide out of the glove compartment? asked Giles, sitting down on a sidewalk bench. His attempt at a smile wasnt doing a very good job of hiding his fatigue and frustration.
Sure. Oz rummaged in his pocket for his keys.
You know, kids, said Xander, do you ever get the feeling that Buffy doesnt want to be found? Maybe shes enjoying the rootless existence of a young vagrant. All those perks like going to bed alone every night, never staying in a town long enough to learn anybodys name, nobody seeming to care whether you live or die.
Xander, said Cordelia, youre not making a lot of sense.
Okay, Cordy, Ill dumb it down to a supermodel level. What I want to know is, why is she still running? Does she see Tommy Lee Jones around every corner, or what? Whatever she would get charged with, a half-decent lawyer could get it tossed out of court faster than you could say Johnnie Cochran.
Giles shook his head. Xander, the FBI are pursuing her just as ardently as we are. Surely she has noticed that by now.
Okay, Giles, but so what? asked Willow. Does she think she would stand a better chance going up against them on her own than with us by her side?
I dont think shes aware that were following her, answered the Watcher.
No, no, protested Xander. Thats not the point. If she wanted our help, she knows where we are in Sunnydale. Maybe she left on the spur of the moment for whatever reasons, but its been over a month. That spur is way back in the dust now. So why is she still running?
I wish I knew, answered Giles wearily. Youre not suggesting we give up now, are you?
Xander sighed. No. Shes my friend, and I think she needs our help. Shes saved our lives more than enough times.
How many times does your life need to be saved to earn the label more than enough? asked Cordelia. Once? Twice?
In your case, we might have to go double digits on that one, replied Xander.
Oz poked his head out of the passenger side window. Uh, I found something odd in here. Odd squared, actually.
Oz opened the passenger door, and they clustered around him. In his hand were five tickets to that days Cubs baseball game.
Oz, said Willow, since when are you a baseball fan?
Since thirty seconds ago, when I found these tickets on my dashboard.
Xander put his hand over his eyes. Oh boy, I sense a deluge of unanswerable questions about to smack us all in the head.
Yeah, like are the seats upper deck or field-level?
Everybody looked at Cordelia.
What, I cant enjoy sports because Im a girl?
As always, Cordelia, you approach understanding but still miss it entirely. Oz, you didnt by chance leave the van unlocked? asked Giles.
In this country? I like ownership of a vehicular nature. It gives me a sense of freedom. Oz patted the side of the van like he would a favourite pet.
Im going to say thats a no, concluded Xander. So our list of unanswered questions is, one, how did Mister X get into the van, and two, why did he leave us Cubs tickets?
Cordelia gave her boyfriend a quick elbow in the ribs.
Oh, yes, and three, are they good seats or what?
The important question, replied Willow with a severe glare directed at the other girl, is the second one. Is this a trap, or a message, or a generous stranger?
Well, the latter would rule out Republicans, noted Xander.
If it were a trap, mused Giles, ignoring the younger mans comment, it wouldnt be for us, since weve been easily capturable from the moment we left Sunnydale.
So its a Buffy thing, said Oz. A trap for Buffy or a message about Buffy; maybe shes going to be at the game.
Is it just me with the easy access to reason, or shouldnt we be having this useless conversation on the way to Wrigley Field? Cordelia pulled open the side door of the van and climbed in.
Giles and Xander shared a glance. The teenager muttered, I hate it when shes right.
* * *
You want anonymity? You cant beat an afternoon game at Wrigley Field. This is the place where thousands of ordinary people come to skip work and school without having to worry about being found. This is the place where dreams are born and the ivy grows like nostalgia on the outfield walls. This is the place where men become boys and boys become heroes. Whistler took a deep breath and grinned. Can you smell the popcorn and cotton candy in the air? Can you smell the grass and the still-damp infield dirt from last nights rain?
Buffy took a long sip from her Coke. I smell something, but its not grass or popcorn, and its coming from your mouth. Reminds me of a farm, actually. Cows.
The demon looked at her and shook his head in disbelief. Have you no appreciation for one of the greatest shrines in professional sports? Epic battles have been fought on this field, Slayer, battles won and lost on the smallest of details, the barest of margins. The angle of the bat in full swing, the step forward the outfielder takes instead of a step backwards, the movement of the pitchers head to one side or another, the split-second decision to go for the double play instead of the sure out at first base. On such insignificant moments are the winners and losers decided and defined.
Are you aware that youre talking about a kids game?
Its more than that, Buffy, it represents life at its best and worst. There is the joy of individual accomplishment and the satisfaction of successful teamwork. There are moments when you have to do something all on your own, and moments when you need the help of your friends and teammates. There are moments when failure can turn into success, and success can turn into failure, and no one knows why; there are moments when your best is not enough, and moments when your best is equal to the task. Can you feel the excitement in the air? The people in the stands around us look at the players on the field, and what they see is not much different than themselves human beings, with good points and bad points, but part of something greater, a goal vaguely sensed but often discussed. When the home team wins a ballgame, everybody in the stadium feels like they were part of the victory, even if all they did was cheer their heroes on. That is why people come here, and that is why those men on the field keep playing, because everybody wants to be a part of something wonderful. Meaning, Buffy, life is always a quest for meaning, and for a short while, these people feel like their lives have meaning, a purpose. The value of that is immeasurable. Whistler gazed wistfully down at the field.
Buffy cleared her throat. Thats the longest speech Ive ever heard you say, Whistler. All for a game people play.
He turned to her and smiled. Is that all you heard, Buffy? You didnt hear yourself in that speech?
She stared at him silently for a few minutes. Then she said, I have a purpose. I slay monsters. When I have time, I fit a pathetic life into my busy saving-the-world schedule. I guess theres value in that for everyone else, but I dont see much in there for me.
Whistler shrugged. Maybe someday you will. Now pay attention, Sammy Sosas coming up to bat. If were lucky, well get a foul ball.
Ill be over here containing my excitement.
* * *
I cant wait to hear this, G-man. How are you going to find one girl in a stadium of thirty thousand people? The head of security for Wrigley Field, Daniel Snow, leaned back in his chair and grinned.
Jameson leaned forward, resting his hands on the edge of the desk. Ushers, man. Send them up and down the aisles with a picture, and theyll find her.
You said this girl is dangerous. What if she sees the ushers searching the crowd and goes ballistic? Im not risking my ushers like that.
Starkey rolled his eyes. The ushers? What about the people in the stands, you moron? Theyre in as much danger as anyone else.
You also said that this girl was only dangerous when provoked, noted Snow calmly. The fans are going to be too busy enjoying the game to provoke a teenage girl. In fact, Im not sure I want you guys running around my ballpark scaring the fans.
Its not your decision to make, retorted Jameson. Check the badges, pal. FBI, remember?
We need to get a few things straight. Snow stood up. One, this is a privately-owned building. You need a warrant to come in here looking for a suspect. Otherwise, you can buy a ticket like everybody else. Two, I am not going to allow three dozen federal agents to interrupt a nationally televised baseball game. Theyre playing the Mets, Sosas on a hot streak, and the Cubs are only a few games out of a playoff spot. Three, you guys irritate me. You can buy a ticket, or you can get the hell out.
Are you done? asked Starkey in a cold voice.
Yeah, and so are you. My boys here will escort you to the ticket window. Try not to cause a fuss. Behind the FBI agents, two beefy young men appeared.
Thanks for the cooperation, said Jameson on his way out. Hope you havent been cheating on your taxes
Walking down the hallway outside Snows office, Starkey chuckled. That threat never works.
What, the tax cheat thing?
Thats because we never follow through on it.
Have you noticed that our confrontational style of dealing with the local police and security forces rarely produces any decent results?
Jameson paused to think about that. You know, youre right. Do you think we should consider another tactic?
Were too old to change now, right?
Think the assistant director is going to blink when he sees this months expense sheet?
He will when he sees a receipt for three dozen Cubs tickets.
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